A theater company in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk has cut a fable about an Orthodox Christian hedgehog who converts other forest animals from an upcoming production, citing pressure from local authorities. The short play, called "Tale of the Orthodox Hedgehog," is one act in a trilogy for adult audiences called "Songs About the Homeland."
"There will be no 'Hedgehog' on April 1 and for this Novosibirsk can thank the regional culture officials," the segment's director Dmitry Egorov wrote on Facebook, adding that there was "no need to make waves."
The production drew outrage from Orthodox Christian activists, whose influence in Russian society has grown over the last few years with support from the Kremlin.
In the play, which made its Novosibirsk premiere in February, the hedgehog convinces a squirrel to be baptized in the river despite knowing that it cannot swim. When the squirrel drowns, the hedgehog considers it a victory that the animal died a Christian.
"It is a profanation of the deepest mystery, a profanation of faith, a parody of faith," Yury Zadoya, head of the People's Cathedral movement in Novosibirsk region, said in February. "The story is irresponsible and harmful. Staging it is a clear provocation. It has one goal — for Orthodox children to connect the mystery of baptism with coercion, deception and death."
Under a 2013 law, passed after the protest group Pussy Riot staged a "punk prayer" in a Moscow cathedral, it is illegal to organize public actions that offend the "religious feelings of believers."
Director Dmitry Egorov said in a February interview with the RIA news agency that he is an Orthodox Christian and the play is not about faith, but "how ordinary people don't have the right to correct another person, force him to do something, under the guise of a great idea."
"For me personally, as someone who very much loves and worries about my country, it's strange for me to see how religion, through the efforts of some very active citizens, is beginning to turn into a likeness of the Communist Party," Egorov said. "When spiritual things, wonderful things, begin to acquire the features of a kind of aggressive partisanship."
Earlier last month, the director of the Novosibirsk State Opera and Ballet Theater was fired over a production of Wagner's Tannhauser that ran afoul of the Russian Orthodox Church. Prosecutors opened a case in February on the grounds that the interpretation of Tannhauser had offended religious believers.
In response to questions about the hedgehog play, the culture minister of the Novosibirsk region, Vasily Kuzin, told the local Tayga.Info news site that his office neither bans nor approves artistic productions. "In this case it was recommended to the leadership of the Globus Theater to keep in mind the pressing social situation today in Novosibirsk when formulating its repertoire and showing plays," he said. "The discussion concerned only the civic responsibility of the artists and the directors of the institution on the question of preserving social stability in our city."
Activists are planning a rally in Novosibirsk on April 5 in support of creative freedom.